- Ian O'Connor, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Spike Lee answered his cell phone on the first ring Monday, and he quickly intercepted my first question with the cries of a best-of-seven sinner in dire need of a confessional booth.
"Yes, yes, yes," Lee screamed.
The world's most famous Knicks fan was acknowledging guilt and asking for forgiveness at the same time. Speaking for millions of New Yorkers tired of weathering a basketball drought of Biblical proportions, Lee was saying something he swore he never would.
"For the first time in the history of mankind," he shrieked, "I want a Boston team to win. It's the first time ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ... "
The man said "ever" more than a dozen times. The filmmaker who ensured the yuppie bicyclist in the Larry Bird jersey got verbally harassed on a Bed-Stuy street in "Do the Right Thing" was ready to check into the same lineup with Bird, McHale, Parish and Danny Ainge.
A longtime admirer of all things Knicks and Yanks, Lee was willing to sell his Boston-bashing soul for this most worthy cause:
"We need LeBron," he said. "I feel we have a better chance to get LeBron James if Cleveland loses this series to the Celtics. The quicker Cleveland loses, the better our chances are of getting LeBron."
The Cavaliers host the Celtics on Tuesday night in a Game 5 colored by the highest possible stakes. Fall again in Quicken Loans Arena, and Cleveland returns to Boston with the possibility of losing a whole lot more than a second-round series.
James might stay if the Cavs are eliminated, and he might leave if the Cavs win it all. Nobody knows for sure if LeBron will base his free-agent choice on his team's performance over the balance of the playoffs, or if that performance will be a mitigating factor at best.
But if your Garden variety Knicks fan had to guess, he or she would likely side with human nature. And human nature suggests that marriages usually stay intact when two parties are happy, and usually dissolve when at least one of those two parties is not.
James and the Cavs will love each other dearly if they win Cleveland's first professional sports title in 46 years.
LeBron might file for divorce faster than Sandra Bullock if they don't.
"We've got a better shot at LeBron if he loses to the Celtics than if he loses to the Lakers in the Finals," Lee said. "I don't want Cleveland in the Finals, win or lose, because then I think he'll stay."
If Lee speaks for the majority of Knicks fans, he doesn't represent them all. Freddie Klein, a familiar 75-year-old face at the Garden and a fan who says he's missed only about 50 home games over the past 51 years, believes New York's odds of landing LeBron will improve if Cleveland wins a ring.
"I couldn't root for the Celtics if the end of the world came, anyway," Klein said. "I hate them. But if LeBron gets his championship he has his excuse. He can say, 'Look, I did everything for the city and now I can leave.' He can be the mayor of New York, and there are fewer reasons to stay in Cleveland if he wins it this year."
In any other Knicks-free postseason, Lee would've been pulling for just that. He would've been pulling hard for the Cavaliers to sweep the Celtics and send the 2-guard turned executive, Ainge, barreling into a rebuilding mode.
But this isn't any other Knicks-free postseason. This is the last Knicks-free postseason to be played before James lets his contract expire and then makes the most dramatic career move in NBA history.
Should he lead the hometown Cavs, or rescue the big-market Knicks?
"Donnie Walsh has done the near impossible of clearing out space for two max contracts under the cap," Lee said of the Knicks' president. "All I'm saying is it's very easy to get over rooting for the Celtics when I know what the end result might be, and that's LeBron and the second free agent he chooses to play with."
At a recent party promoting the Queen Latifah and Common movie "Just Wright," Lee ran into Boston's Rajon Rondo, he of the Oscar Robertson-esque 29-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist shredding of the Cavs in Game 4.
The filmmaker spent 20 minutes telling the point guard his team needed to take out LeBron for the sake of the Knicks. Lee asked Rondo to pass on the same message to Ray Allen, who played the role of Jesus Shuttlesworth in Lee's "He Got Game."
"I believe in Jesus," Lee said. "I believe the Celtics can win this series because something's happening with Cleveland. They look suspect to me, and they have no answer for Rondo.
"But listen, I'm not putting on any green and I'm not going to kiss the Blarney Stone or do the shamrock thing. I hate the Red Sox as much as I hate the Celtics and the ghost of Johnny Most and all those guys. This is the first and last time I root for Boston on anything, but for this one possible result it's worth it."
The possible result of LeBron James in the Knicks' starting five next fall.
So right here, right now, Spike Lee and millions of fellow New Yorkers are willing to cut a Faustian deal and speak these two evil best-of-seven words:
Go ... Celtics.
Spike Lee is known for doing the right thing. Now, it's being a Celtics fan.